29 August 2011

Decision Time

God help us; we're doing it.

Eva is officially a Homeschool Student. I am officially a Homeschool Mommy. 


We informed the elementary school where Agent E is registered that she will not be attending. I sent an e-mail to Agent J's preschool letting them know she will not be returning this year either. We are committed. Or, perhaps, should be committed. Time will tell.

I shuffled all my best laid plans around and came up with a simplified calendar. I created an overview of things I intend to "cover" for the 1st semester (September to December) and a week-by-week list of notes (a work in progress) to keep me on track, but nothing too scheduled. I really thought given my neuroticism I would prefer a set class/school/work time each day, but looking at the overall goals for the week and winging it based on Agent E's mood/needs/interests seems like it will work better.

Agents being their usual crazy selves
Still not sure what to do about The Sibling Factor, or if it will impede our intentions in any way. Agent J will probably enjoy "doing" school with us in her own way. Agent A will just be along for the ride, as always. Luckily, he is pretty mellow and will very much enjoy spending all day with his fan club. He will love that the girls are home.

We received a message a few days ago regarding an orientation for parents of new kindergarten students. This would be for parents to meet teachers and "discuss class procedures" (whatever that means). The last line really sealed the deal for me, though: We would prefer no children, please. Um, really? No children at kindergarten orientation held on a Monday morning that both parents are expected to attend? While older students are already in class? So the only children there would be the kindergarten students themselves and any younger siblings? Right.

Wish us luck. We start next Monday, September 5th. Woo hoo!

19 August 2011

Even More Thoughts On Homeschooling

Subtitle this one: Holy Crap the School Year Starts in Two Weeks and We Haven't Officially Made a Decision Yet.

1. I have some negative thoughts swirling right now. What if she doesn't learn a thing the entire year? What if this whole experiment fails epically and when we enroll her in first grade next year she is woefully behind? (Out of curiosity I checked out the curriculum for the school here, and she is already doing 95% of what they expect kindergarten students to know at the end of the school year.) What if I hate it? What if I complete and totally suck as my child's teacher? What if I lose my mind by the end of week two and am begging the school to take her? What if I never have a moment of free time to myself? What if I miss terribly the joy of running errands with just one (not-yet-walking) child? What if I never. get. anything. done. ever. again?

Good morning!
2. On second thought . . . it's only kindergarten for chipmunk's sake. So what if she just wants to run around the house with Agent J all day long and play. Isn't that what she is supposed to be doing? Plus, if you knew Agent E you would know that "fun" to her includes reading a lot of books, asking 1000 questions a day, and helping me around the house (all great "learning" opportunities). And it's actually easier on many levels to have all the kids home with me . . . they entertain each other quite well and we never have to worry about leaving the house at a specific time or going out in a rain storm to pick someone up from school or interrupting baby brother's nap.

3. I still fear that I am denying them something that they enjoy by *not* sending them to school. Both girls have loved their preschool experiences. They each attended for the whole 2010-2011 school year, plus summer before and after (so, from July 2010 through August 2011). They love going to school, and their friends, and especially their teachers. (It's a small school and everyone knows everyone . . . students in different classes (different ages) play together and eat lunch together and know every teacher well.) What if they miss it and resent homeschooling right at the outset?

4. Been thinking a lot about curriculum vs. winging it, and I think the best plan for us is a flexible "homemade" curriculum (i.e., nothing very structured or purchased). I have a list (of course I have a list) of what I would generally like to "cover" with the girls for our first semester (September to December). Fridays are for library trips, errands, and extra stuff (e.g., computer skills) that don't really fit in with one of the core subjects. Oh, yes . . . core subjects—reading/writing, math, science, social studies, and foreign language (Italian, duh) are all on the agenda. I have also included health as well as a Bible study. (If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that the all-day kindergarten she would attend is over 30 hours a week.)

Baby vs. Roomba
5. Hubby has a pretty sweet schedule right now, as we're rockin this whole shore duty thing, but once he goes back to sea duty (i.e., we go back to the states and he works on a ship again) things will be turned upside down. Then we'll be back on ship time, when he goes to work early and comes home late. Guess what? If the kids need to be out of the house and functional at school by 8:00, there is no way they can still be awake long enough at night to spend any time with Dad whatsoever. We simply cannot live like that for years of sea duty . . . only seeing Dad on weekends and when he is on leave a couple times a year. Especially when he is already going to be gone (i.e., out to sea/deployed) a lot during that time.

6. I am pretty sure I used to make fun of the idea of not wanting to be tied to the school year calendar. Guess what? Now that is a huge factor in my decision to homeschool. If we have the opportunity to visit my husband while he is training/taking classes/otherwise away from us, we don't want to have to wait until a "better" time during the year. When Hubby comes home from deployment, we want to be able to take time off then, not at the next scheduled school break. If we have to move in the middle of the "school year" I don't want the girls to get behind, have to spend time readjusting to new teachers, etc. We can just plan our breaks for when they fit our schedule.

7. While we're talking time and calendar-ish stuff . . . one thing that has been brought to my attention (by well-meaning if not slightly crazy bystanders) is the astute observation that many things in life have a specific starting and ending time as well as a supervisor. Sometimes we have jobs that require us to be awake earlier than we'd like. College classes (in a traditional setting) have a schedule to follow. In any job, you will be reporting to someone, and therefore this whole idea of being able to learn what you find interesting on your own terms is a thought many find a bit too footloose. After all, they proclaim, that's not how the world works, and sooner or later my children will need to learn that and conform. I'll ignore the conforming part for now and just remind those who point this out that my oldest child is five years old. Five. years. old.

08 August 2011

Yet Another Post on Homeschooling

School as been a big part of my short parenting stint.
Agent E has been to school a lot . . . and she's only five years old. 
At two she went to a Mom's Morning Out program at the YMCA one morning a week for three hours. Not really "school" but time away from me with other kids her age and two teachers. Agent J was about four months at the time, and we used those mornings for running errands as well as some dedicated Mommy Time. Mostly, though, it was more for me.
At three she attended preschool three days a week at a small church near our house. Again, three hours each day, nine hours a week total, and she loved it. Julia was older and mobile and a little more challenging, but we enjoyed our time together.
Agent E at her new preschool in Italy
A little more than halfway through that school year, we moved to Italy. We were here for about a month before I enrolled her in preschool (a few weeks before she turned four) . . . this time in a pre-K class, which she attended for just two months at the end of the school year. She thought it was great, and of course by now this was just what we do, so I enrolled her again for the following year.
(Both Agent E and Agent J also completed the summer session . . . three days a week for five weeks . . . at the same school. This was J's first school experience, and she thought it was wonderful. Guess what? Enrolled her in the two-year-old class for the following year, too.)
Back to E . . . at four years old, E went to school Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 2:30 p.m. in the pre-K/kindergarten combined class at the same preschool. And, as usual, she loved it. She turned five near the end of the school year, and immediately thoughts of The Big Kid School filled her head.
(Insert another summer session . . . for both Senior Agents . . . here.)
The school days at the elementary school are even longer . . . 8:00 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., Monday to Friday. That's over 30 hours a week, not counting travel time or homework (which I'm not certain but I hear they now give in kindergarten. Kindergarten homework, folks.)
So, now I'm wondering: Who has all this school been for? Her? Or me? And why does it seem so normal to us?
Of course, I can’t escape the fact that the Senior Agents love school. They really enjoy their school days. They are very attached to their teachers. (Who, by the way, are fabulous.) They look forward to it, learn a lot, and are happy to go each morning. Which makes this decision even harder.
Do I really want to “take that away” from them?
As usual, I have more questions than answers.
Agent J rockin art time again
Why, when I read an e-mail from the girls' preschool about open house for the new school year did I get all weepy?
Why, when Agent E mentions going to kindergarten, and points out the elementary school on base, do I stifle my urge to tell her, "maybe not"? 
Why did I spend the entire weekend researching what children learn in kindergarten and first grade?
Why do I have a document on my desktop outlining the "school" activities I'd like to do with the girls in the next few months?
Why am I not looking forward to time alone with just Agent A? to grocery shopping in peace? to being able to run errands with just one not-yet-walking child?
Why is my desire for "me" time not squelching this newfound obsession with wanting to homeschool?
Why am I not more excited about the school year beginning in four weeks?

04 August 2011

Now I Get It

I am a huge advocate of breastfeeding. I don’t refer to myself as a “lactivist” . . . I find this term a tad corny . . . but I probably am. I sincerely hope that doesn’t scare you.
I almost wanted to call this something like “What Breastfeeding Means To Me” but it sounded too much like the grown-up version of the eighth-grade essay. Forgive me for plunging into stream of consciousness style here, but as much as I love this topic it’s often difficult for me to say what I want to say about it without running in circles.
We are VERY into breastfeeding at our house
I surely spend more time thinking about and researching and reading about breastfeeding than the average person. Because of this, one of my biggest Parenting Peeves is comments about breastfeeding that are blatantly untrue and/or offensive and/or plain stupid. 
There are many advantages to breastfeeding beyond providing nutrition, and if you are interested, I would love to share them with you. Perhaps I will even rave about them in a future post. Dr Jen (one of my absolute favorite sources of terrific info) wrote a fabulous piece on newborns and why breastmilk is not food. Plus, breastmilk is just so darn useful . . . recently I cleared up multiple eye infections (my children’s and my own) with “homemade” eye antibiotics. But that’s not why I’m writing this.
Nor am I writing this to bash other infant feeding methods. Although to be honest, I must admit I cringe a little when I first hear a fellow mom say “well, I tried, but I couldn’t breastfeed because [fill in the blank with a reason that’s not really a reason].” I’m not here to boast about my superior lactation skills. I know some women are unable to breastfeed due to medications, or a previous reduction, or past trauma . . . or they simply prefer to bottle feed because they decided that breastfeeding was not for them.
What I really want to share is how I evolved from “Ooh, nursing, yes . . . that’s free, right? And formula is quite pricey? Okay, let’s do that breastfeeding thing” to “Feeding your child your own milk, and watching her/him thrive on it, is the Most Fabulous Mommy Feeling Ever.” Never did I anticipate that of all the myriad aspects of parenting swirling around me, nursing would be the thing to turn me on my head. I cannot separate mothering and breastfeeding. They are inexplicably intertwined for me, for us. It goes beyond feeding in a way that only another breastfeeding mother can understand.
Agent E came very close to being formula fed, as nursing her was not exactly easy or a joy at the beginning, but once we caught on it became just a part of our life. (See Feeding Baby for a bit more on this.) At one point in the middle of our latch issues I considered pumping exclusively and bottle feeding, but I’m sure that would have not lasted long. This likely would have nixed any chance of my second daughter or my son being breastfed either. Why? Because then I would have been a Formula Feeding Mom and never delved into all the benefits of breastfeeding, discovered LLL or other support groups, or become one of those people that comments on breastfeeding advice pages on Facebook at least once a day. I never would have known what it was really like. And I truly feel I would have been missing out. That is why I am writing this.
The first days with Baby E were rough. The lactation consultant at the hospital where I delivered her quit that week. The nurse they sent in to “help” was uninformed, impatient, and mean. I ended up giving her formula, both in the hospital and at home during the first few days. I cried the first time I had to ask Hubby to go make her a bottle. I felt like a failure, a complete mess. I did see a lactation consultant when she was four days old, but she too was not very friendly, and knowing what I know now, gave some rather poor advice. One good thing came of that visit, however: She motivated me to pump. I went to Target and bought an electric boob pump (a pretty expensive experiment, given that I wasn’t sure it would work, or even if it did, if I would continue). I now know this saved our breastfeeding relationship. I pumped like a crazy woman and started feeding with bottles of expressed milk. However, pumping and bottle-feeding proved to be way too much work—basically doing the job of a breastfeeding mom and a bottle-feeding mom simultaneously. I figured we would just make our lives easier and switch to formula. So, after a few more days of trying to get her to latch on, I gave up. I put away the pump, packed in its neat little black bag, and thought: That’s it. I tried. This @#$% is harder than it looks. No wonder so many women can’t breastfed. Now I am one of them.
This lasted about three days.
Following a teensy postpartum breakdown of tears, I frantically pulled the pump back out, put it together, and went all bovine. I made a renewed commitment to trying to latch Baby. I wandered the house shirtless and focused on nothing but getting that baby attached to a boob. She finally latched properly for the first time at about three weeks old (interestingly, in the middle of the night, when I wasn’t even trying) and at just over a month she finally finished a sufficient meal directly from the breast.
E nursed through my second pregnancy and beyond. Daughter #2 (Agent J) latched on immediately and sailed right through those first few days and weeks, probably because I was still nursing her sister (23 months at the time). I ended up tandem nursing for just over a year. E weaned at just over three; J at just over two. I was about four months pregnant with #3 when Agent J stopped nursing.
Probably postpartum hormones thinking, but while in the hospital with little brother (Agent A), even after having successfully breastfed his sisters for a combined total of four years, I had a flash of panic: What if the milk never came in? What if I couldn’t nurse this one as I did his sisters? What if it simply didn’t work this time? (As I’m typing this, I’m balancing an exclusively breastfed, five-month-old, 18-pound moose on my lap, so clearly not the case.) I struggled at the beginning with him, too . . . never did I dream that my third baby would have latch issues, weight gain issues, etc. But nursing and babies had become so connected for me that the thought of not being able to offer that to my last baby devastated me. So we pressed on, and we did it. We had to.
Okay, this is getting incredibly long, and I’m still not sure I’m saying what I set out to say. Putting this into writing is much more difficult than I thought. I love nursing my children. I cannot imagine parenting without breastfeeding. What I once considered just a way to feed a baby has become a game-changing act in my mothering gig. I especially love that my daughters think of mommies giving their babies milk not only as the right thing to do, or even the normal thing to do, but just The Thing To Do, period. It’s just how mommies and babies work.
And they make that adorable little happy sound right before they latch on.
My favorite recent nursing picture
Now that I have been nursing almost five years continually (just a wee break of a few months between #2 and #3), I would have no idea how to bottle-feed a baby. Seriously. When you breastfeed, you don’t need to worry if baby is actually hungry, or getting too much, or too little. Maybe he just wants to cuddle, but you offer to nurse and he accepts. It’s the ultimate baby calmer. And sleep inducer. And excuse for Mommy to grab the baby and snuggle . . . which I think I’ll go do right now.

01 August 2011

Thoughts on Homeschooling

I intended to write about something else today, but all weekend I couldn't stop thinking about the idea of homeschooling and how it sounds more appealing to me every day. A whole jumble of thoughts have been running through my brain these past few days.

What's likely going down this year . . .

Eva will be going to Kindergarten this fall at the school on base. I'm hoping she will be in a foreign language partial immersion class (if there are more students than spaces, they go to a lottery system, so we won't know for sure until mid-month). I really want her to have this opportunity, as this is our last year living overseas. Plus, I've gotten her so stoked about going to school, I think she would be too disappointed if I started homeschooling right now. And, oh yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing . . . I might need this entire school year to get my act together.

Julia may not be going to school this fall, however, for a reason completely unrelated to my newfound interest in educating at home. While my first reaction was disappointment, now I'm wondering if it's not more of a blessing in disguise. (More details on that in a future post.)

What I'm researching right now . . .

Agent E reading to 3-month-old Agent A
To curriculum or not is my question. While unschooling sounds interesting on many levels, particularly now that I know what it really is, I think I'm too neurotic to not have a specific plan each day. I need something to look at . . . a calendar, a schedule, a workbook, something. (And Agent E is very into that kind of thing. Agent J, not so sure about her yet.)  That said, I also do not find myself initially drawn to any of the well-known "traditional" approaches. I may have to start from scratch on that one and see what I can "build" on my own.

What I'm finding humorous . . .

I'm truly amused by all the chatter about socialization. Since when did school become the only social activity for children between the ages of 5 and 18? I'm also reading Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers and it has been eye-opening to say the least.

What I intend to do next . . .

I see much more research and zillions more lists (my specialty) in my immediate future as I continue to slog through all of this. All blogworthy, I'm sure.